The Inpatient Unit

What I Learnt on my 6 week Psychiatry Rotation

Mental illness is very real

Not that I had any doubt going into it but mental illnesses are real. They are serious and they affect a large proportion of our population. They occur in different people at different times and are of varying levels of severity. Illness may not look the same for everyone but that doesn’t make it any less real. 
There is still so much stigma surrounding mental illness 

Again, I knew this. I have had a lot of experience with this. The stigma surrounding mental health makes suffering with an illness even harder. That shouldn’t happen. People’s choices affect their mental health but nobody chooses to be mentally ill. These are diseases just like any other disease, only we know an awful lot less about why they are happening. 
A career in psychiatry is not for me

It is extremely taxing. The first few days had me fooled. This is easy, I thought, not used to the slow pace and time intensive consultations. It is different to what I had experienced elsewhere in medicine, you spend a long time with each patient, you don’t see everyone every day for a quick check up, and people are unlikely to improve over the same time period. 

You invest a lot of your energy in the patients. You feel what they feel or maybe you feel frustration or anger towards them but you fight it and don’t show it. You get home emotionally exhausted. Being around people that mentally unstable every day made me the most emotionally unstable I have ever been. Honestly.

I don’t know how people do it. To my brave friends pursuing a career in psychiatry, the field needs you and I wish you the best of luck.

There are a few things we can all do to improve our mental health (and our health in general)

Probably the most important thing I took away from the rotation. Here are a few things, put briefly:

  1. Move your body! 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise daily can have huge benefits for your mental health.
  2. Practice mindfulness. Focus on being present. An ever difficult battle in our modern world of distractions. Sit down and read, write, meditate, stretch and just focus on that. Doing this repeatedly, no matter how you are feeling that day, creates pathways within your brain. As you continuously go over these pathways they grow stronger and easier to access. When a stressful thought comes along it will be easy to jump on one of these pathways rather than spiralling out of control. 
  3. Eat foods that are good for you. Fruits and vegetables. Whole foods, not processed, packaged garbage.
  4. Practice. Good. Sleep. Hygiene. You are not good at this and you know it. This deserves its own separate post. 
  5. Be social! When you’re not feeling your best it can be really hard. Do your best. Call a close friend and ask them to come watch a movie. Low fuss. Low pressure. 
  6. No drinking, no drugs. They may provide short term relief but they only cause harm in the long run. If you are having trouble staying off these, don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are so many people that would love to help you out. Your friends and family as well as trained professionals (see links below). 
  7. Lower your caffeine intake. Caffeine fuels those anxious thoughts. 
  8. Spend time in nature. Barefoot, where possible. 
  9. Get out of the house. People need purpose. Find something to do – start a project, find a job, volunteer, sign up for a sport, join a gym – whatever it is, find something that gives you a reason to get out of bed in the morning. 
  10. Make time for yourself. Every day. Find time to do something for yourself. Don’t let work/study consume your life. Make time for things you enjoy doing. 

It may seem overwhelming, I know, but have a look at your life and think about one thing you can change today. It doesn’t have to be huge. 

If you need help don’t be afraid to reach out, have a look at the links below: